For the San Francisco 49ers, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been the “Golden Boy” since he arrived two years ago. On Sunday, he paid dividends against a tough and feisty Arizona Cardinals. Facing their division rival for the second time in three weeks, the 49ers found themselves in a close game. Today we take a look at three major points in the exciting late-game comeback by Garoppolo and the 49ers.
Where is the Run?
For the second straight game and for just the third time this season, the 49ers struggled to run the football. On Sunday, San Francisco finished the game with a measly 34 yards rushing on 19 attempts. Arizona focused on shutting down the ground game, a common theme when anyone plays the 49ers, and it worked. Arizona dared Garropolo and the passing attack to win the game, again. The 49ers were unable to open up holes at the point of attack and failed to get the ground game in rhythm. Against one of the worst run defenses in the league, the 49ers averaged just 1.9 yards per carry. Arizona received big contributions from linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Budda Baker.
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A major factor for the struggles in the ground game was the absence of George Kittle. The talented tight end is not just a superb pass catcher, he is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Kittle’s versatility helps set the edge on the outside in addition to keeping defenders honest. With Kittle on the field, defenses must first focus on his potential as a route runner before committing to the run. It’s telling that in the two and a half games where he’s been out, the 49ers ground attack has stalled. Who had the longest run for the 49ers? Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert would cede that title to Garoppolo and his seven-yard scramble. The lack of a ground game forced the 49ers to lean on Garoppolo and the passing game. Luckily their quarterback was up to the task.
Defense Figures it Out
It has been the trend all season for the San Francisco defense. Base defense throughout the first series, hoping to find the opposition’s preferred attack. At that point, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh makes his adjustments. So far the gamble has paid off. The game against the Rams and the contest against the Cardinals are the only times the opposing team scored a touchdown on the opening drive. On Sunday, the defense rose to the occasion and redeemed themselves for their harrowing Halloween performance. Arizona benefitted from multiple pass interference calls in the first quarter. Richard Sherman was called for three pass interference penalties which put Arizona in prime real estate. However, the defense got stronger as the game progressed and Sherman held his own against talented receivers, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald.
Arizona finished with just 266 yards on offense. Saleh’s defense forced the Cardinals to sustain long drives by ceding the underneath routes and protecting against the deep ball. Kyler Murray averaged 6.25 yards per completion. It was another superb game from Emmanuel Moseley in coverage as he was tested on multiple occasions. The defense pressured Murray and prevented the offense from finding a rhythm. With just nine minutes remaining in the first half, the Cardinals led 16-0. The San Francisco defense would then force two turnovers and add a score of their own to finish out the game. It may not have been pretty but the defense made the plays needed to earn the victory.
Offense Can Play
The 49ers scored 36 points on Sunday. Six of those came from a defensive score to end the game. Things were slow to get started as the offense looked lethargic and an anemic ground game led to two yards of offense through three drives. Facing a 16-point deficit, the offense woke up and started chugging. In under two minutes, Garoppolo and the offense marched 75 yards for a touchdown, highlighted by a 57-yard catch and run on a throwback screen to Richie James. The quick drive seemed to ignite a fire in the offense. San Francisco scored on four of their next six drives with the two outliers a result of red-zone interceptions. Two phantom holding calls on center Weston Richburg negated two touchdowns. Garoppolo finished with 424 yards through the air, completing 34 of 45 passes. He threw for four scores and two interceptions. The interceptions were the only blemishes on the day.
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Deebo Samuel surpassed the century mark in receiving yards for the second consecutive game. Samuel caught eight of his ten targets for 134 yards receiving. He was a force over the middle and made big plays when needed. Ross Dwelley finished with four receptions, although two of those went for scores. A third touchdown was wiped out on one of Richburg’s holding penalties. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk caught all seven of his targets for 63 yards. On the game-winning drive, Garopolo completed six of his seven attempts for 58 yards. The final blow came on a perfectly called angle route from running back Jeff Wilson. Against an all-out blitz, Garoppolo stood tall and zipped a pass to Wilson. The running back, in his only offensive snap, snagged the pass with his right hand and sped into the end zone. It was a fitting end for an impressive performance by Garoppolo and the passing game.
Keeping It Moving
While it wasn’t a thing of beauty, the 49ers found a way to get the victory. San Francisco now sits at 9-1 and in control of the NFC. For the first time since the Jim Harbaugh years, the 49ers have swept the season series against Arizona. It was a tough battle and tested the mettle of both the players and coaches. Kyle Shanahan called a brilliant game and made key adjustments in the game’s biggest moments. Saleh and his defense were up to the challenge and managed to contain the talented Murray. San Francisco faces a daunting task ahead as they host the Packers before back to back road games against the Ravens and Saints. The road will be bumpy but this team has shown their ability to stay in the fight.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada